The Boston Red Sox are looking to do more than simply add depth to the bullpen ahead of the MLB trade deadline. They want a top-notch reliever.
Go big or go home. That’s the mentality Dave Dombrowski often takes to the negotiating table. The Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations has never been shy about making a deal. While the club has identified the bullpen as an area in need of an upgrade, Dombrowski isn’t content with adding depth. He wants a difference maker.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Red Sox are aiming high in their search of the relief market. The goal is to upgrade on the collection of setup men they currently have rather than complement them.
"“They’re not just looking to get an eighth-inning reliever” an evaluator for a competing club told Crasnick. “They’re looking to get a guy. A real guy.”"
Boston’s bullpen ranks third in the league with a collective 3.19 ERA, 3.38 FIP, and 4.1 fWAR. The Red Sox already have a strong bullpen yet it’s not enough for a team with World Series aspirations.
Craig Kimbrel is as good as it gets in the ninth inning. Getting the ball to their closer can be an adventure. Joe Kelly is having a solid season as the primary setup man but a horrendous month of June shows he’s still prone to frustrating levels of inconsistency. Matt Barnes has been more effective when he’s given a cushion of 3+ runs to work with. Tyler Thornburg has looked rusty after a year and a half on the shelf.
Dombrowski’s approach to the trade deadline may be with an eye on the future. Kimbrel will be a free agent this winter and it will take a small fortune to re-sign him. That’s money that could be allocated elsewhere down the line when the Red Sox will have higher priorities to lock up. Adding a top reliever not only gives Boston a two-headed monster to finish games, it potentially gives them Kimbrel’s replacement.
Who can they target?
Crasnick mentions that the Red Sox sent a top evaluator to watch Kyle Barraclough. The Miami Marlins closer would fit the profile for what they need but may not be a realistic target. The price will be sky high for a pitcher the Marlins seem reluctant to move. Barraclough has been outstanding but the Red Sox have to be mindful of how he would hold up under the intensity of a pennant race in Boston. It’s not quite the same as pitching in half-empty stadiums down in Miami.
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The Red Sox have also shown interest in Colorado Rockies closer Wade Davis. He’s in the first year of a $52 million contract that he signed last winter. Davis leads the NL in saves but has otherwise had a subpar season with a 4.04 ERA and 4.8 BB/9. They also asked about setup man Adam Ottavino, who has pitched much better than Davis but is a free agent after this season. Colorado is only 4.5 games out in the NL West and in the thick of the Wild Card race. They aren’t likely to sell, barring a complete collapse this month.
San Diego is also mentioned as a potential trade partner and they have several bullpen pieces we’ve recently discussed as targets. Crasnick finds it hard to image Dombrowski would deal with the Padres after they withheld medical information in the Drew Pomeranz trade. He may be right about lingering disdain toward the Padres but Dombrowski can’t let that prevent him from acquiring an upgrade if it’s available. If Brad Hand is on the table then he needs to grit his teeth and pick up the phone.
Building a bullpen for October
A strong bullpen is vital when we get to the postseason. Baseball is trending toward relying more on power arms who can crank it up in short stints to cover the last few innings rather than risk exposing their starter to the lineup a third or fourth time.
The top starters in the Red Sox rotation don’t exactly have the best track records in October. If they can add another reliable reliever to help lock down the last few innings then they won’t need to ask as much from those starters.
The Red Sox don’t have a whole lot to offer from their depleted minor league system. However, relief pitching can often be found without selling the farm. Dombrowski has to at least kick the tires. He won’t surrender his last few trade chips for a minimal upgrade. He’s thinking big. If Dombrowski manages to cash in on the trade market then it could make all the difference in the postseason.